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Game 1: If you want a win, send a Cable

It was ugly, then it was maddening, and ultimately it was heartbreaking – unless, of course, you’re an Irish fan. Wrote Jonathan Czupryn of the NY Times (thanks again, Knicks, for losing. Keep it up!)

South Carolina, which entered Sunday’s national semifinals with the 11th-ranked scoring defense in Division I, forced Notre Dame to play in the mud, slowing the game with gritty defense and stifling ball pressure.

Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, Coach Muffet McGraw and the Fighting Irish adapted to Coach Dawn Staley’s game plan as effectively as they conformed to Florida’s 80-degree weather.

Women’s Final Four: Notre Dame edges South Carolina in thriller, Tampa Tribune

On Sunday, senior Madison Cable, who had yet to score and attempted only four shots, scored the go-ahead basket with 16 seconds left after rebounding a missed shot by Jewell Loyd under the basket and putting back up nearly uncontested.

“I think it was a good time to get my two points for the game,” Cable said.

David Cloninger: 

There was no panic.

When Aleighsa Welch put back Tiffany Mitchell’s missed 3-pointer with 72 seconds remaining in Sunday’s national semifinal, South Carolina led for the first time all night. The Gamecocks were going to do it again – snatch victory from defeat – and they were going to Tuesday’s national championship game. It was scripted.

Notre Dame changed the ending.

Irish eyes smiling after this victory, Tampa Tribune

Think it didn’t matter? South Carolina players dropped to their knees or lay on the court when it was done. And the tears came. The Gamecocks were in the first Final Four in school history. It mattered. Dawn Staley’s team kept fighting back all night and grabbed its first lead, 65-64, with a little more than a minute left. The dream lived.

And now it had died.

Maloof: ND’s Loyd comes up big in crunch time, NCAA.com
Young frontcourt leads Irish back to title game, Michelle Smith, ESPN

“I think a lot of people coming in said we couldn’t handle their frontcourt and I think we did a really good job of it,” Turner said. “We just tried to battle the whole game and not let up.”

Turner and Reimer fueled Notre Dame’s offense in the first half, going a combined 8-for-11 from the floor for 20 points and eight rebounds. 

Notre Dame Shatters South Carolina’s Title Dreams, Courant
Cable’s putback puts Irish back into title game, ESPN
College women’s basketball: Unlikely hero lifts Notre Dame to national final, Duluth News Tribune
Notre Dame squeaks by South Carolina to secure spot in NCAA title game, ND Insider

Thanks to one of the most improbable finishes in program history Sunday night, Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team gets a shot at powerful No. 1 Connecticut in Tuesday’s NCAA Championship Game.

With freshman forward Brianna Turner, the team’s best shot-blocker and rebounder, fouling out with 3:11 remaining in regulation, with point guard Lindsay Allen – the MVP of the Oklahoma City Regional with a 25.5 scoring average – held scoreless and fouling out with 1:39 remaining, and with the team trailing for the first time with 1:12 left while in the midst of a 7:35 scoreless string, things couldn’t have looked bleaker for No. 2 Notre Dame against third-ranked South Carolina in Sunday’s first semifinal at Amalie Arena.

Or brighter, if you consider Notre Dame’s point of view.

Notre Dame Defeats South Carolina In NCAA Women’s Final Four, NPR
Farnum-Patronis: Gamecocks’ rally comes up just short
Notre Dame survives South Carolina rally to advance to title game, FullCourt.com
Gamecocks use loss as learning experience, ESPN
Cloninger Soundoff: Staley’s program built to endure, Go Gamecocks

For Gamecock fans, team still the ‘One’, Go Gamecocks
Video: Emotional Tiffany Mitchell on USC seniors’ impact, Go Gamecocks
Garnett and Black Attack

The South Carolina women went to Tampa looking to make history. They came up a bit short, but it wasn’t for lack of talent, or effort. Rather, an excellent Notre Dame team went toe-to-toe with the Gamecocks, and the Irish caught one extra break to grab a 66-65 win and eliminate South Carolina from the NCAA Tournament.

In-depth recap of Notre Dame’s victory over South Carolina, Swish Appeal

USC dribbled to the frontcourt and called timeout, but it seemed everyone in the building knew what would happen.

“We thought that Mitchell would get the ball and there would probably be a ball screen,” McGraw said postgame. Brian McCormick (also writing for Swish Appeal) sat next to me and said before the play that USC would set a high ball screen for Stewart. Steve Spurrier, Darius Rucker, and the rest of Hootie & The Blowfish knew USC would set a high ball screen for Stewart.

But ND hedged hard and beautifully, got a deflection, and forced an off-balance heave from near the hash mark by Stewart that wasn’t close when the buzzer sounded.

Game 2: Speed kills Turtles

Folks who follow the game know how devastating the cool and composed Morgan Tuck can be. The red-shirt sophomore seems to thrive on the big stage. Yesterday, when UConn’s A-game was not on tap, Tuck brought her All-American-To-Be into play to power the Huskies to a spirit crushing victory. Wrote Harvey Araton in the NYT:

Already trailing by 47-33, the Terrapins found a rare open shooter, guard Laurin Mincy, in the left corner. As Mincy set her feet and was about to launch from behind the 3-point line, the 6-foot-4 junior forward Breanna Stewart lunged with her long arms from what had seemed to be a safe distance away.

Stewart, recently named the Associated Press player of the year, deflected the shot. The freshman Kia Nurse caught the air ball, dribbled out of the pack and found a streaking Morgan Tuck filling the left lane. Tuck, a bruising 6-2 forward who missed last season with a knee injury, handled Nurse’s pass in stride, then made a gorgeous touch pass to Stewart, hustling back into the play, for a layup.

There was still 17 minutes 50 seconds left in the game, but it was all over except for the shouting, and the tabulating.

More on the game:

Maloof: Secret weapon Tuck leads UConn rout of Terps
UConn’s Tuck making most of return to court, ESPN
UConn Beats Maryland, Plays Notre Dame In National Title Game, Courant
UConn’s Kia Nurse Doesn’t Let Big Stage Rattle Her, Courant

Huskies Happy With Same Old Story, Courant
Huskies roll over Maryland, reach title game, Register
UConn easily dispatches Maryland, vies for third straight title, Tampa Bay Times
Women’s Final Four: UConn rolls into another title game, Tampa Tribune

When it was still a competitive game Sunday night, the Amalie Arena videoboard showed the familiar grin of actor Tom Cruise, who purchased a suite so his kids could watch the Women’s Final Four.

Appropriately, this was Mission: Impossible.

It was Maryland’s turn to take a crack at the top-ranked Connecticut Huskies. The Terrapins tried to run with UConn. It worked for a while.

And then …

This basketball game will self-destruct in five minutes.

Story just beginning for Maryland sophomores, ESPN

You heard it here first: at the Final Four two years from now, in 2017, the Terrapins could walk away with the title. That’s how good this team’s trio of sophomores — Brionna Jones, Lexie Brown and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough — are. (Also relevant: UConn star Breanna Stewart, who scored 25 points on Sunday and is going for her third title in three years, graduates the year before.)

Photos: Final Four: UConn Women Vs. Maryland, Courant

And prepping for the Finals:

UConn Vs. N.D. Perfect Ending For Tournament, Jeff Jacobs, Courant

Notre Dame is the only team in the nation that can score enough points to have any chance to beat UConn on Tuesday night. So for those outside the borders of a tiny New England state, getting Notre Dame into the national championship game is needed. Badly needed.

Yet inside the Connecticut border, there is a need, too. Or maybe a “want” is a better word. Look, South Carolina, with Dawn Staley and her program, is on an unmistakable rise. Although the Gamecocks’ first appearance in a national title game would have made for something new, something different, they proved unready when it mattered most Sunday night against the Irish in the Final Four to take that final step.

NCAA women: UConn to face Notre Dame in final, Tampa Tribune
Auriemma and McGraw’s rivalry, ESPN
Huskies, Irish set up title game rematch, Mechelle, ESPN

In a season in which there really were some unexpected thrills and surprises, the last chapter will be written again by two old reliables: UConn and Notre Dame.

It won’t be a meeting of two undefeated teams like last year’s NCAA title game, which was won by the Huskies 79-58 over the Irish. But it will be oh-so-familiar to women’s basketball fans, who’ve definitely seen this movie before. And its sequel. And the sequel to the sequel, etc.

UConn and Notre Dame to meet again for women’s national title, SI

And in the more future: Women’s issues could take center stage at future Final Fours

 When the NCAA Women’s Final Four returns here in 2019, the Tampa Bay area could find itself the epicenter of a wide-ranging forum on the most compelling issues that affect women.

If Anucha Browne sees her dream become reality, the annual championship event in women’s college basketball will also serve as a dynamic force to empower student-athletes and lure national women’s groups into the host city for networking and discussion.

“That has been my vision,’’ said Browne, a former standout basketball player at Northwestern who currently serves as the NCAA’s vice president of women’s basketball championships. “This is the premier women’s athletic event in the world, a celebration of women at the top of their sport. The next step is: how do you use this event as a platform to bring women together to discuss women’s issues?’’

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The Irish:

From Graham: Reimer’s hiatus pays dividends for Irish

Taya Reimer wasn’t on the court the last time Notre Dame lost a game. She wasn’t on the bench. She wasn’t in the arena. She wasn’t even in the state.

It isn’t a coincidence that she is here as the Fighting Irish return to the state of Florida for the first time since that loss in Miami nearly four months ago. And if Notre Dame is to beat South Carolina on Sunday night and return to the national championship game for the fourth time in five seasons, it won’t be a coincidence that she will be on the court.

John Fineran for the Notre Dame Insider: South Carolina next hurdle for Notre Dame women to clear

“I have a lot of concerns about South Carolina,” McGraw said Saturday before sending her team out for the first workout by the four teams. “They’re such a good team and their depth is just probably the best in the game. Actually, I think they have the most depth of any team here.”

Slap the Sign: Notre Dame Basketball: Muffet McGraw’s Most ‘Unlikely’ Final Four Team

More from John at the Notre Dame Insider: Madison Cable brings competitive fire to Notre Dame and from ND’s official site: IRISH EXTRA: Madison Cable Tuned In To Irish Success

Al Lesar at the Notre Dame Insider adds: ND’s Lindsay Allen giving defenses something else to worry about

The burden of responsibility Loyd has carried into the NCAA Tournament has manifested itself with some very un-Jewell-like performances. Combine the DePaul (3-of-15) and Baylor (5-of-18) games and Loyd is shooting a chilly 24 percent, well below the 45 percent clip she carries (along with a 19.9 scoring average) for the season.

A testament to the solid nature of the Irish program was that Notre Dame didn’t crumble when Loyd’s numbers went down the tubes.

Somebody else just stepped up.

In addition to a hot streak by long range artist Michaela Mabrey (12 of 19, 63 percent, in the last three games), 5-foot-7 sophomore point guard Lindsay Allen (averaging 10.8 points, 5.3 assists) has flipped the switch from starter to finisher; from distributor to scorer.

Denise Maloof at NCAA.com: Superstar, when needed – Irish’s Loyd can dominate or facilitate come Sunday and

David Cloninger at GoGamecocks: Final Four: Jewell Loyd shines brightest for Irish

If there was a way to do it, somebody would have done it by now.

“We do have a game plan in for what to do with a player like Jewell Loyd,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “You have to make her work.”

And make sure Loyd doesn’t work your team to death – which is where she specializes.

The Gamecocks:

From Charlie: Why South Carolina’s bench could trouble Irish

A’ja Wilson could be the national freshman of the year. Alaina Coates was the SEC’s top freshman in 2014 and is the Gamecocks’ leading rebounder this season.

Yet both come off the bench for South Carolina.

And nobody inside that locker room cares. Getting the program to its first Final Four was the only goal that mattered from day one.

From Willie T. Smith III at USA Today: Notre Dame has more than just Loyd, South Carolina knows

An extensive study of film on the Fighting Irish was enough for the Gamecocks’ coach to understand why her No. 2-ranked opponent continually finds itself in the Final Four.

“Notre Dame is like a machine from an offensive standpoint,” Staley said. “They’re like Connecticut in that they find the person that is supposed to shoot it. They make basketball look beautiful and easy because they feed off each other.”

Gene Sapakoff at the Charleston Post and Courier: Lack of women’s parity or not, Gamecocks crash Final Four cartel

That South Carolina hasn’t just reached its first Final Four but crashed an exclusive party enhances a vault from mediocrity. As a parity debate simmers within women’s basketball, the Gamecocks going into Sunday night’s game against Notre Dame are a beacon of fresh hope.

“We’re not here off luck,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said Saturday. “Our team worked to get in this position, and it just goes to show some of those other programs, if you continue to work and you continue to recruit and you continue to do things the right way, I think the basketball gods will put you in this position.”

David Caraviello at the Post and Courier: In Final Four, USC’s Mitchell receives her toughest assignment yet

The women’s Final Four ramped into high gear Saturday, when house music thumped and pep bands blared as each team walked through something resembling practice. The din quieted briefly as the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association introduced its All-American squad — which included South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell and Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd, who lined up next to one another for the group photo.

They’ll get quite accustomed to that kind of proximity Sunday night.

William T. Smith, III: For Welch, Ibiam, Dawn Staley’s pitch is coming true

When recruiting South Carolina seniors Aleighsa Welch and Elem Ibiam, Gamecocks women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley made sure the duo understood her goals for the program .

Staley believed both reaching the Final Four and winning a national title at USC were attainable.

“With both me and El, it was something she definitely pitched to us,” said Welch. “It was something she wanted both of us to really believe in. It was something we talked about on my home visit and I’m sure on El’s home visit.

More from William: Aleighsa Welch helped spark USC’s recent success

Aleighsa Welch has never met a stranger.

Friends are met with hug, acquaintances an arm around the shoulder and newcomers a warm smile.

Welch’s kindness should not be seen as a weakness, however, as beneath that smile beats the heart of a warrior.

Andrew Ramspacher at The Daily Progress: Former Cavalier great Staley returns to Final Four

Watching the game from home last week, Debbie Ryan considered the right time to send a congratulatory text to Dawn Staley.

It wouldn’t be at the final buzzer of South Carolina’s win over Florida State. It wouldn’t be when Staley was cutting the net off a Greensboro Coliseum rim in celebration of a regional championship.

No, Ryan whipped out her phone as soon as Tiffany Mitchell drained a corner 3 with 1:21 remaining to give the Gamecocks a five-point lead.

“You’re going to the Final Four,” Ryan told Staley. “Enjoy it. Have some fun.”

Gamecocks’ Staley dedicates Final Four trip to John Chaney

Vic Dorr for the Richmond Times Dispatch: For Dawn Staley, coaching brings sense of balance, fulfillment

The most stunning crossover of Dawn Staley’s basketball career occurred not on the court but rather during a job interview at Temple University.

Despite having every intention of saying “no,” Staley said “yes” in 2000 to an offer to become the Owls’ women’s coach. To this day, she seems surprised.

“I absolutely did not want to be a coach a day in my life,” Staley said. “Not one ounce of me wanted to be a coach.”

Ron Morris at The State: Building a champ: Staley has made Gamecocks into annual national contenders

Her purpose has been seven seasons in the making, yet Dawn Staley has instilled a mindset that South Carolina women’s basketball is a national championship contender.

Establishing that line of thinking sometimes has been a two-step forward, one-step backward process for Staley and her coaching staff.

Through it all, Staley said she never wavered in her belief that her program would be among the nation’s elite.

“I didn’t have any doubts, but the struggle was very real when you’re not winning as much as you’re working hard. What we put ourselves through as a staff is we had to understand it’s a process.

Amy Farnum-Patronis at NCAA.com: A matter of time

When Dawn Staley added the title “Final Four coach” to her lengthy résumé last week, it really didn’t surprise anyone in the basketball world. It had just been a matter of time.

Staley has succeeded at every level in everything she has done, so when she took over as head coach at South Carolina in May 2008, Gamecock Nation was just biding its time until she turned the program into not just a winner, but a national contender.

The Terrapins

From Kate: ‘Everybody’s rooting’ for young, fearless Terps

The Terrapins were supposed to be too young; they had lost five seniors, including the program’s leading scorer, Alyssa Thomas, from last year’s Final Four squad, and conventional wisdom suggested it would be at least a year before fiery coach Brenda Frese could make her super sophomores — Lexie Brown, Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough — believe themselves capable of returning.

From Gene: To beat U-Conn., Maryland women’s basketball must first defeat doubt

Addressing the media the day before the NCAA tournament’s Spokane Region final last week, Maryland women’s basketball Coach Brenda Frese was asked for reaction to comments from her counterpart at Duke, Joanne P. McCallie, about top-ranked Connecticut.

The coach of the Terrapins’ contentious rival had mentioned there was a “monarchy” in the sport, referring to the Huskies’ nine national championships, wildly lopsided victory margins and McDonald’s all-American recruits Coach Geno Auriemma seems to stockpile by the dozen.

“She must not think her team can beat them,” Frese said.

From Diamondback Online: With renewed expectations, Maryland women’s basketball preps for UConn

“Last year, we were really excited to be there,” Mincy said after her last practice in College Park. “We were taking in the whole experience. We are going to do the same thing this year, but our mindset is a little different. We are coming in to the Final Four to win.”

But the odds are stacked against the Terps. They are set to play the tournament’s top seed, Connecticut, which has won its first four games in the Big Dance by an average of 41 points.

From Charles Walker at the Carroll County Times: Having reached elite level, Terps relish shot at ‘Goliath’ of women’s basketball, UConn

As good as Maryland has been, Las Vegas oddsmakers listed the Terps as 23-point underdogs once the match-up was set. And no one thought that particularly strange.

So why did Maryland players carry such big grins this week as they spoke of the task ahead? Well, it’s simple: They want what UConn has. And whipping the existing monarch is the surest path to the throne.

“Who doesn’t want to beat Goliath in the end?” said Maryland’s lone senior, Laurin Mincy.

From Doug: Coach Frese, Maryland hopes to end UConn’s run at Final Four

“Aren’t we tired of it,” Frese said of UConn’s dominance. “Everyone’s rooting for us. Some new stories, our sport needs it to be quite honest. I know there are a lot of people out there cheering and want to see Maryland beat UConn. For us and our sport it would be a great thing.”

Amy Farnum-Patronis at NCAA.com: Maryland’s guard play key in matchup vs. UConn

Anthony Brown at the Baltimore Wire:

What Maryland basketball has been all about the last 28 games is physicality on the boards, driving to the basket with reckless abandoned and pushing the ball in transition. Teams haven’t been able to keep with Maryland’s pace because they rebound the ball so well and their transition game is one of the best in the NCAA. Their sophomore class is a big part of their success  and Brionna Jones in the post spearheads the success of the team offensively as a rebounder and scorer.

While Maryland has their big four of Lexie Brown, Laurin Mincy, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Jones in this Women’s Final Four matchup, the Lady Terps will have to worry about these players on UConn’s squad:

The Huskies

From Mechelle: Breanna Stewart embracing UConn celebrity

 If you’re a great player like Breanna Stewart signing to come to UConn, you must realize you’ll have more on your plate than just trying to keep up the program’s crazy-high standards.

You will be a celebrity in Connecticut. Not just for the time that you’re playing, but forever after, too. Signing autographs, people adoring you, wanting to know your opinion about everything. Sounds cool, right?

“I wasn’t particularly comfortable with it,” said Rebecca Lobo, the signature star of UConn’s first NCAA title team in 1995. “I loved playing at UConn, but I never expected — because I had never experienced it before — all that other stuff that comes with it.

Rich Elliot for The Day: UConn embraces its role as the favorite

There is a sizeable target on the back of every member of the UConn women’s basketball team each time they step on the floor. It has been like that for years now as the top-ranked Huskies are considered the favorite to win every game they play.

It is a role that they have had no choice but to embrace. It is a role that has seen them thrive. And they are looking do so again over the next three days at Amalie Arena.

Greg Auman for Newsday: At UConn, it’s national title or bust

Denise Maloof at NCAA.com: ‘It comes with the territory’ – UConn’s sky-high standards are unique to rest of field

As nine-time national champions can, Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma dropped an observational nugget during media sessions ahead of Sunday’s 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Final Four.

“I wish we would lose more,” Auriemma said Saturday, to audible murmurs. “I really do.”

Yeah, right. The quote master’s two-time defending national-champion Huskies meet Maryland in Sunday’s second national semifinal at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. They’re playing in their eighth consecutive Final Four.

Why does losing sound attractive?

Harvey at the NY Times: UConn’s Domination Is Win-Win for Women’s Game, Geno Auriemma Says

“I think the attention that comes from being really good and having a certain standard that we set and a certain level of recognition, I think it has been good in that sense,” he said. “I think coaches around the country and their athletic directors can say, hey, look, look what happened up in a small place like Storrs, Conn.; look what they’ve been able to do. Why can’t we do the same thing?

Tom Jones at the Tampa Bay Times: UConn’s greatness not necessarily a boon for the sport

Patricia Babcock McGraw at the Chicago Daily Herald: Why UConn’s program is good for the women’s game

Brian Koonz at the CT Post: Lobo is right, it’s time for women’s basketball coaches to ‘grow up’

“Grow up,” Lobo snapped, addressing an invisible audience of head coaches Saturday at Amalie Arena. “Watch what they do. Watch what those players do on and off the court.

“Make yourself better. Coaches, make yourself better so that you can compete with Connecticut. Don’t try to make Connecticut worse. They’re nothing but good for the women’s game.”

As long as critics, including head coaches, complain about UConn’s dominance, women’s basketball will remain the game with a burden.

And it’s so much more than that.

You’re not here? Nya, nya: 5 things you’re missing In Tampa Bay

Ann must be pleased: Congrats to UCLA, WNIT champs. Watch out, PAC-12, for that kid Canada

The gap in the middle of West Virginia’s defense was a repeating invitation that UCLA freshman Jordin Canada couldn’t pass up.

Canada drove to the basket often and scored a season-high 31 points to lead UCLA to a 62-60 win over West Virginia for the Women’s National Invitation Tournament championship Saturday.

Canada was the only double-figure scorer for the Bruins (19-18) and was selected the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

 

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Under an enormous amount of scrutiny – both by the Secret Service and by grumpy Committee bashers – the #8 Tigers and #9 Phoenix put together a nice game. Princeton dominated the boards and nailed their free throws to secure their first NCAA tourney win.

Courtney Banghart had seen it once too often. It was not much more than a year ago and one more time than she could stomach watching Annie Tarakchian, then a sophomore, catch the ball in good position near the basket, hold the ball over her head and look to pass without ever showing the slightest inclination to propel a strong frame to the basket.

“Annie is about the most gentle soul on this earth, and she’s really kind,” Banghart said. “Those two, gentle and kind, are not great inside the lines. Inside the lines for the first year and a half at Princeton she was gentle and kind.”

So when Tarakchian was passive one too many times in practice before a key road trip to Harvard and Dartmouth a season ago, Princeton already in a hole in the Ivy League race by then, Banghart whistled proceedings to a halt and delivered a simple rebuke. 

It wasn’t just the Tigers who were roaring.

If you recall, Susie McConnell-Serio’s team opened the season rather inauspiciously. That’s all forgotten as #10 Pitt Panthers produced a HUGE win for the program as they upset #7 Chattanooga, 51-40.

“Walking up to hal court at the end of the game I said to him, ‘This is bittersweet,’ because I have so much respect for him,” she said. “I think he is one of the best coaches in the game, and I’m so happy that he’s still coaching because he just has so much to offer to his players.

“So as happy as I am for our team and our program, it was hard to look at him as I was shaking his hand.”

It’s fly like an Eagle time, as #7 FGCU defeats #10 Oklahoma State, 75-67. They move into the second round for the first time in program history.

Smesko said the men’s team’s run two years ago has been “fantastic” bringing recognition for the school, located on the outskirts of Fort Myers, in southwest Florida.

“We’ve been right on the precipice for a long time,” Smesko said. “We know our next game is going to be against one of the very best teams in the country.”

#13 Liberty has been a hard-nosed program for a while – as #4 North Carolina quickly re-discovered – but the Tar Heels pulled out the win.

 Latifah Coleman and Allisha Gray weren’t going to let Sylvia Hatchell’s return to the NCAA Tournament end so soon.

Gray scored 17 points and Coleman had 15 to lead North Carolina past Liberty 71-65 on Saturday in the first round of the Greensboro Region.

The fourth-seeded Tar Heels (25-8) shot 49 percent, led by 14 and withstood the Flames’ late push to give their Hall of Fame coach a victory in her return to the NCAA Tournament after a year away to fight leukemia.

“This whole week, I have been so stressed out,” Hatchell said. “It’s a good stressed because I’m so excited about the tournament.”

Taking lessons from their football team, #15 Boise State was not intimidated by #2 Tennessee – even on their home court. In the end, the Vols escaped the Broncos.

The Lady Vols were clinging to a 63-58 lead after Boise State’s Camille Redmon made the front end of a one-and-one with 2:51 remaining. But Redmon missed her second free throw, and Tennessee’s Ariel Massengale sank a 3-pointer 13 seconds later to spark a game-clinching 8-0 run.

“I’m satisfied we got the W, but we could do much better,” Graves said. “Our one-on-one defense has got to be tight right now. This is crunch time.”

Coach Trakh can be proud of the effort of his #16 New Mexico State team against host, and #1 seed, Maryland. The Terps ruled the Aggies, 75-57.

Maryland center Brionna Jones could only giggle at the comparison.

“Like PT boats attacking a battleship,” New Mexico State coach Mark Trakh said in describing the destruction the 6-foot-3 Jones inflicted on his shorter, slighter players as top-seeded Maryland won its NCAA tournament opener Saturday.

All season, the Terps have won by continually switching guises. As if to prove that versatility, they beat New Mexico State with a bruising inside attack in the first half and a barrage of jumpers in the second.

#12 James Madison and #5 Ohio State gave us the Debbie Antonelli Special, with the Buckeyes emerging victorious, 90-80.

The Buckeyes — who started three freshmen and bring sophomore Shayla Cooper off the bench — shot 58 percent in the second half and scored on seven consecutive possessions down the stretch.

“Obviously, when you get to this time of the year (and) you have kids who have experienced it, that can be beneficial,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. “But I also think for kids who haven’t, then have that youthful energy and that passion to be a part of it. … That can take you a long way.”

#12 Quinnipiac and #5 Oklahoma gave us the second DAS, combining for 97 points in the first half and 99 in the second. Sooners scored more, so they win and move into the next round.

When the Sooners were 5-5 in non-conference play earlier this season, it was tough imagining them making the NCAA Tourament, much less imagining them winning a game in it. But after finishing in second place in the Big 12, Oklahoma came ready to play in the NCAA Tournament. Their 111 points against Quinnipiac showed that despite their lack of experience you should never count out a Sherri Coale coached basketball team.

Sun Belt champ Arkansas-Little Rock battled #6 Texas A&M wire-to-wire, then the #11 seed made good on the upset, 69-60, earning coach Joe Foley his 700th win.

“Tops right now,” he said. “Top game. It’s unbelievable, playing against a friend, playing in the NCAA tournament. It was fun. And to play as well as we did. We played great, and we deserved it.”

Taylor Gault scored a season-high 25 points, Kiera Clark added a career-best 22 and 11th-seed UALR beat sixth-seeded Texas A&M in an opening-round game Saturday.

“The thought I had was to shoot and drive and do whatever I knew I could do best for my team,” Gault said.

#3 Louisville tamed #14 BYU, but the game may be remembered for this action by the Cardinals’ Mariya Moore than the actual score.

Meanwhile, Louisville’s inside presence out-muscled the Cougars from the opening tip. The Cardinals outscored BYU 44-30 in the paint, and added 11 second-chance points on 33 rebounds to net the win.

Barely two minutes into the second half, Louisville’s Mariya Moore drew a technical foul — and the ire of both coaches — leveling BYU’s Morrison with a hard push off a screen.

BYU leading scorer Lexi Eaton responded to the physical play of the game with an elbow of her own two minutes later, a move that went uncalled by the officials — though she did receive a foul on a push on the same play.

#2 Florida State was in their comfort zone, and easily handled #15 Alabama State, 91-49.

“This experience is huge for our program,” Alabama State coach Freda Freeman-Jackson said. “It’s been a while since we have actually had an opportunity to compete in the NCAA Tournament. We only have one true senior that actually played (Saturday). We’re extremely young.”

Alabama State was composed early but wore out, committing 32 turnovers against a stifling Seminoles defense.

#14 Ohio spotted #3 Arizona State 16 points in the first half, but the MAC played the PAC even in the second. Nice re-focuser for the Sun Devils.

Junior guard Elisha Davis increased the lead on the next possession, getting a steal and making the layup. In a 54-second span, ASU had gone on a 7-0 run.

ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne said the spurt was a result of ASU’s defense.

“When our defense is turning people over and we’re getting easy buckets in transition, that’s when we’re at our best,” she said.

Ohio coach Bob Boldon gave credit to that aspect of ASU’s game.

“They took us out of everything we wanted to do,” he said. “That really contributed to us getting frustrated on the offensive side.”

Speaking of “re-focusers” #16 Cal State Northridge sure as heck provided that for Stanford as what seemed like a blowout-in-the-making turned into a dogfight. Cardinal escaped, 73-60.

How many hard lessons is this year’s Stanford women’s basketball team going to have to learn?

The Cardinal have already learned that beating Connecticut doesn’t mean you can’t lose to Chattanooga, that knocking off Oregon State doesn’t mean you can beat Oregon, that winning Pac-12 titles isn’t a default status, that changing your entire offense and turning it into a well-oiled machine isn’t going to happen overnight.

And that hosting an NCAA tournament game isn’t the same as winning it. At least not if you don’t play well.

Stanford figured that last one out just in time Saturday.

Courtney Williams did what she does, as host #6 USF dispatched #11 LSU:

South Florida made the most of its first home NCAA postseason game.

Courtney Williams had 17 points and 12 rebounds, Alisia Jenkins added 15 points and No. 6 seed South Florida beat 11th-seed LSU 73-64 in an NCAA tournament first-round game Saturday night.

The announced crowd of 5,560 erupted as the final seconds ticked off.

“I took a moment and went out there (on the court) and was like `wow,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “This is what we’ve wanted and worked for.”

The Old Big East fans were having serious flashbacks in Storrs as they watched #8 Rutgers and #9 Seton Hall go after it in OBE style. 

“What a great game,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. “We played hard. I thought that Seton Hall did an outstanding job as well and just played extremely hard. We’re glad to have gotten that game under our belts.”

One year after staging a double-overtime thriller in the third round of the WNIT, Rutgers and Seton Hall turned in another memorable affair. For the second straight year in the postseason — and for the 34th time in 41 meetings all-time — the Scarlet Knights prevailed.

The #16 Terriers knew what they were getting into when they drew the #1 Huskies for their first-round match. But the game, did prompt a nice story in the NY Times about St. Francis guard Sarah Benedetti :For a St. Francis Player, UConn, Long an Inspiration, Turns Rival

When Sarah Benedetti moved to Canton, Conn., as a fifth grader in 2004, she almost immediately started rooting for the University of Connecticut’s basketball teams. That year, UConn became the first Division I university to win the national titles in men’s and women’s basketball.

Benedetti began attending Huskies games with her family and teammates. She idolized the UConn stars Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore. She was so obsessed with the sport that she arrived at Canton High School at 6 a.m. each day to shoot for an hour before classes started. Her father, Sergio, rebounded the ball for her.

Now a senior at St. Francis of Brooklyn, Benedetti competed Saturday night against her former favorite team.

Benedetti did well.

They were smiling from the moment they took the floor, especially when UConn’s starters were being introduced. This was their moment. And Benedetti, with a large cheering section on the day that her old high school lost its bid for a Class S state championship, did her best, making three three-pointers in a first half in which the team’s hole progressively grew deeper. She scored 13 points.

Said coach Thurston post-game:

“This was an incredible experience for our program. This team is the first time that St. Francis has sent a team to the NCAA Tournament on either the men’s or women’s side. Coach Auriemma is a gentlemen. He said nice things about our team and that means a lot to these girls. I told the girls if we played anyone else, we would have beat them, but it would take the defending National Champions to knock us out.”

On the Saturday games: Charlie:

1. ACC flies high: In two days, the ACC went from filling one eighth of the field to representing one quarter of it. While other teams are disappearing, everyone from the ACC remains present and accounted for. No one in the conference has lost, and the league is 8-0 after another four-win day Saturday. Pittsburgh, Florida State, North Carolina and Louisville all cruised into the second round. The Tar Heels had to withstand a late push by Liberty, but otherwise, the games were not only wins but also comfortable ones.

Even Pittsburgh, a No. 10 seed, thoroughly controlled Chattanooga from start to finish in handing the Lady Mocs their eighth straight tournament loss. For the second straight year, Chattanooga had a 25-game win streak snapped in the first round of the tournament. Panthers freshman Stasha Carey’s 16 points and 13 rebounds were just the second double-double in Pittsburgh NCAA tournament history.

Now hurry up and turn on the TV!

12:00 #4 Duke vs #5 Mississippi State, ESPN 2
12:00 #3 Iowa vs #11 Miami, ESPN 2

2:30 #2 Kentucky vs #7 Dayton, ESPN 2
2:30 #2 Baylor vs #10 Arkansas, ESPN 2

7:00 #3 Oregon State vs #11 Gonzaga, ESPN 2
7:00 #1 South Carolina vs #8 Syracuse, ESPN

9:00 #4 Cal vs #5 Texas, ESPN 2
9:00 #1 Notre Dame vs #9 DePaul, ESPN

Oh, and thanks, pilight, for keeping official track of this:

Note that this does not include the men’s play-in games. This is round of 64 vs round of 64. 

UPSET is any lower seed winning 

BIG UPSET happens when an upset involves teams more than four seeds apart 

CLOSE means a game was decided by single digits or in overtime 

BLOWOUT means a game was decided by 20 or more points 

80-90-100 is the number of teams scoring that many points

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